The Fourth of July brings to mind a famous statement by John Adams, in writing to his wife Abigail about the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” (That Adams was talking about July 2nd is a fun fact, but not important to our story.)
Another Adams observation is relevant as well. Adams is often quoted as saying that in the American Revolution, one-third of Americans were patriots, one-third were lukewarm to revolution, and one-third continued to support the king. This is a misquote; Adams was referring to hostilities that arose between Britain and France during his presidency. This does not, however, change the fact that substantial numbers of Americans were hostile to the cause of independence.
One study has estimated that 6% of Connecticut’s population were Loyalists (also known as Tories). These were concentrated in the western part of the state. Litchfield County’s Tories continued to support the king largely for religious reasons; for example, St. Michael’s Church (now Episcopal but during the war part of the King’s Church of England) repeatedly had its windows broken out of contempt for its Loyalist members. Occasionally, hostile feelings toward Litchfield County’s Loyalists turned violent. Parts of Harwinton and Plymouth were hotbeds for Toryism, and one Plymouth Tory was “hung up till almost dead” on the town green. New Milford, which still contains the topographical feature called Tory’s Cave, witnessed the sentencing of a Loyalist to having to carry a goose to Litchfield for his own tar and feathering.
The town of Litchfield, relatively safe from British incursions, was used to jail prominent Loyalists, including New Jersey governor William Franklin (son of the decidedly anti-Loyalist Benjamin) and David Matthews, mayor of New York City. Ultimately, most of Litchfield County’s Loyalists abandoned their property and fled to Canada. While our celebrations of the Fourth of July continue to make Adams’s prophecy about “bonfires and illuminations” come true, it is important to remember that American independence was neither guaranteed nor unanimously supported.